South Africa: Beacon of Democracy - Building a New Consensus in South Africa Means Imagining a New Way of Doing Things


South Africa now faces a resource squeeze, where dwindling public revenue, expanding public spending and a stagnant private sector have created an unsustainable state wherein the national democratic project is at risk. The quest for socioeconomic transformation is urgent.

South Africa's democratic transition is a pre-eminent example of political change achieved through dialogue-based consensus-building. While this legacy has been celebrated worldwide since the 1990s, South Africa's failure to achieve sustained economic performance and subsequent socioeconomic transformation increasingly detracts from the nation's image as a beacon of democracy.

Can social dialogue again offer solutions? Are social compacts workable instruments to help us navigate out of our current malaise?

The socioeconomic context today

The quest for socioeconomic transformation in South Africa is urgent.

With an unemployment rate of about 30%, South Africa now has 11 million people of working age who are unemployed. Considering that the median age of the population is only 19, the country's growing unemployment problem will in the future be one of mainly youth unemployment.

With an urbanisation rate of about 60%, these young South Africans increasingly live in proximity to overburdened public infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals constructed largely during apartheid.

Expansion of housing, water...

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